Highlighting Maple Leafs Prospects in the World Juniors

 

Maple Leafs prospect Joseph Woll will try to spend as much time in net for Team USA as he does with Boston College (Photo by Richard Gagnon/Getty Images)

Maple Leafs prospect Joseph Woll will try to spend as much time in net for Team USA as he does with Boston College (Photo by Richard Gagnon/Getty Images)

All stats and information comes from eliteprospects.com, hockeydb.com, SHL.se, theqmjhl.ca

As Canada celebrated Boxing Day, our neighbors up north, among the rest of the hockey world, celebrated the start of the most exciting tournament of the year; the World Junior Hockey Championships.

For the Toronto Maple Leafs, they will have four prospects donning their home countries uniforms in this tournament. Last World Juniors featured five such as Mitch Marner and Travis Dermott for Team Canada, William Nylander and Dymtro Timashov for Team Sweden and golden goal scorer, Kasperi Kapanen, for gold winning Team Finland. (Note: Auston Matthews doesn’t count since he was draft eligible at the time).

This tournament will have four prospects on display for the world. They include Jeremy Bracco and Joseph Woll both for Team USA, Carl Grundstrom for Team Sweden, and Martin Dzierkals for the underdog Latvians. It was almost five but Nikita Korostelov was the last cut for Team Russia.

So what do we need to know about these Leafs prospects on one of the biggest stages?

(One last side note, I envy whoever did something similar to this but about the Flyers. They have nine prospects going to the World Juniors. Nine!)

Let’s start off with Jeremy Bracco. The Long Island native was a second round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft after a huge year with U.S. U18 team where he put up 94 points in 65 games, while playing on a line with Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk. That year he also was the second leading scorer at the U18 World Juniors, trailing only Auston Matthews, while outscoring the likes such as Matt Barzal, Patrik Laine, and Clayton Keller.

All of this information seemed like he would’ve been a lock to be a first rounder. ESPN’s Corey Pronman even had him as the 16th best prospect going into the draft. Needless to say, it was a shock that he fell to pick number 61. The only logical reason he dropped was because of his small 5’7 frame.

Bracco’s game is a ton of fun to watch if you enjoy flash and high offensive skill. His offensive game has led to a monster year playing for the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL, where he has 51 points in 27 games, including a point streak that lasted 26 games. He’s a smooth and patient skater with a high hockey I.Q. and has A+ vision. His vision combined with his creativity lead to a ton of points for the diminutive winger.

He’s going to be a large part of Team USA’s offense this tournament, where he’ll play on a scoring line, while getting plenty of powerplay time.

Take a look at some of his numbers in the OHL compared to league average. He’s been flat out dominant:

Chart via Josh Khalfin (@Josh_Khalfin)

Chart via Josh Khalfin (@Josh_Khalfin)

Toronto’s third round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft addressed a glaring weakness in the organizational depth chart, which was goaltending. Sure, they traded for Freddy Andersen, but after him, it started to look quite thin. They used the 62nd pick to take Boston College commit, Joseph Woll. Woll was a part of the big group of talent from St. Louis that included Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Logan Brown, and Luke Kunin.

Woll is a big 6’3 goalie who uses his size to fill out the net, moves well from crease to crease, and is an aggressive but well positioned goalie. His agility helps out with his large frame and the two of those traits combined make him an intriguing prospect.

When the “Brick Woll” was in net (sorry, I set myself up) for the U18 team last season, he was terrific in 33 starts where he slapped up a solid .918 save percentage and in 3 starts with the U18 World Junior team, a .947 save percentage, which led the tournament and helped USA claim a Bronze medal.

Woll is at Boston College right now where he’s having a solid freshman season as the number one goalie, having to follow up Thatcher Demko. He’s 10-6-1 in 17 starts on a weaker team in recent memory. Comparing his freshman season to Demko’s, Woll is on a good path. Demko, who was the best goalie in college hockey and a Hobey Baker finalist, had a .919 save percentage in his freshman year. Woll is right on his tail at a .917 save percentage.

The St. Louis native figures to slot in as the backup, beating out Jake Oettinger, who Woll split time with at the USNTDP. Woll will get the start against Slovakia, so we’ll get a chance to see what he looks like in action. If Woll fares well, he could be the go to guy for the rest of the tournament, and possibly next year, as well.

After being a possible first round pick, Carl Grundstrom fell all the way to the 57th pick of this past draft. Grundstrom might be a selection where people look back a few years from now and try to comprehend why he fell all the way to the end of the second round.

Grundstrom’s track record is deceivingly impressive. He first saw some action in the Swedish Hockey League as a 17 year old and had 5 points in 24 games. Not eye popping but nothing to shun about at that age. He had another solid year as an 18 year old, with 16 points in 49 games, both seasons with MODO, who was just relegated. Both seasons as a teenager and playing on the worst team in the SHL doesn’t look so bad.

His stock was high from strong international play, especially with the U18 team. Grundstrom had 17 points in 20 games with the U18 team the year before his draft year. He had a solid 8 points in another 20 games with the U20 team.

This season, he’s with reigning champs, Frolunda HC, and he’s having an exceptional season. In his draft +1 season as a 19 year old, Grundstrom has 11 goals in 27 games for Frolunda, where he’s tied for 3rd in the entire league. Sure, that might look impressive from a shooting percentage at 19%, but he leads the team in goals, all while being 16th out of 18 in time on ice, who have played at least 20 games. He certainly hasn’t shied away from the physical side either, shown by his 36 hits, good for second on the team.

Grundstrom is a solid two way forward, who can put the puck in the net and also knock you off of your skates. He’s playing on a young line with two draft eligible players so he’s looked at to be the veteran of that line that can score.

The last Maple Leafs prospect we have is the shifty Latvian winger, Martins Dzierkals. Taken at the 68th pick in the 2015 Draft, Dzierkals has shown he was worth the selection there. He opened some eyes after a terrific 28 points in 32 games with HK Riga in Russia’s junior league. He also had a great showing in Latvia’s men’s league, scoring 10 points in six games.

Dzierkals made the move to North America and joined the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL where he hasn’t disappointed at all. He has 1.16 points per game with 94 points in his time with the Huskies, and helped them win a QMJHL championship, while scoring 17 points in 20 games.

He doesn’t look out of place internationally, either. Since Latvia is at the bottom of the barrel, hockey wise, they’re constantly facing much better teams. That doesn’t seem to bother Dzierkals. He had 16 points in 17 games as a U20 for Latvia and looks like one of the only players on Latvia that is a real scoring threat in these World Juniors.

Watching Dzierkals is an exciting time. His skating is what makes him so eye opening. He’s got tremendous speed and is extremely agile on skates. I saw a play where he walked around the perimeter of Team USA with ease. He’s got 6 shots on goal through two games, right on line with his 2.95 shots on goal per game in the QMJHL as well. He’s certainly a player to keep an eye out for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *